If you read the papers, you see a continual tension between the demand for energy and the supply. In Japan, homes go dark while utilities struggle to control nuke plants. Meanwhile, here at home, people feel a less catastrophic pinch: Houston and El Paso, for example, had rolling blackouts in February because of a cold snap.

Supply & Demand

Energy companies are pouring megabucks into power systems. But progress comes at a heavy price — and not just in dollars. BP’s disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill made us all stop and think about the true cost of our fuel. In Pennsylvania, companies hydrofracking the Marcellus Shale for gas have dumped uncounted gallons of contaminated water into rivers; state authorities report 2,258 environmental violations to date (source: Marcellus­Gas.Org).

That’s just the big stuff. There’s also the little, local stuff. Traveling in the Florida Panhandle in March, I saw Progress Power placing giant steel power poles along Highway 98; in Apalachicola, some townsfolk are fighting to keep the huge power towers out of their historic downtown.

No giant enterprise is pouring billions into upgrading houses. Remodeling happens on a different scale.

That’s the supply side. What about the demand side? Florida Solar Energy Center’s Phil Fairey told me in 2009 that the energy we could save by ?improving the performance of Florida’s existing homes far exceeds the energy we could pump from under the floor of the Gulf. And that’s just Florida. But no giant enterprise is pouring billions into upgrading American houses. Why not? Well, remodeling happens on a different scale. REMODELING’s Big50 are companies that gross a million, 2 million, maybe 5 million bucks a year. Friends, we are not billionaires.

Making a Difference

And, of course, most remodelers aren’t focused just on energy. But for some, energy is a calling. Like Dave Robinson, who’s upgrading and flipping foreclosed homes in Fresno, Calif., or Mike Rogers, whose company, GreenHomes America, is creating home performance franchises in several states.

It’s just a start. Robinson wants to train 1,000 energy-wise house flippers; so far, he has maybe a dozen. GreenHomes America wants to be in all 50 states; so far, I think, they’re in four.

But it’s growing. And the big investors on the supply side have a reason to get onboard. As Rogers said to me last month, “When the recession ends, consumption is going to surge. And the utilities are on the hook for more power than they can supply. They’ve picked the low-hanging fruit. They’re going to have to get behind deep reductions.”

But with or without the big boys, the actual work is going to get done by small enterprises, working house by house. Wise use is up to us.

—Ted Cushman, a regularREMODELINGblogger, writes the Coastal Connection newsletter and frequently contributes to REMODELING’s sister publication THE JOURNAL OF LIGHT CONSTRUCTION.